If visions of sugar plums aren’t dancing in your head yet, just wait. As December encourages us to stuff our stockings and our bellies, it’s hard to resist all the tempting treats arriving on our doorsteps and adorning our dinner plates. While gatherings may be smaller, gift exchanges virtual and shopping lines shorter, many look forward to the merriment of the season and all the joys it brings.
Whatever days you may be celebrating this month, long-standing traditions are likely to look a bit different this year. Perhaps they’ll be quieter and less chaotic, as travel is postponed in favor of staying home. Finding new ways to connect with friends and family from afar feels second-nature by now and this month will be ripe with opportunities to do so.
One thing is for certain: where there’s a winter holiday, there’s a rumbling tummy waiting to be filled. From gingerbread cookies and eggnog to challah and Feast of the Seven Fishes, it’s safe to say that the season’s festivities wouldn’t feel complete without the accompanying meals we’ve come to know and love. My sister’s vegetarian Timpano is legendary, an end-of-year indulgence of which I am not worthy.
Healthy eating around the holidays can be a challenge. With so many oven aromas and familiar flavors competing for our attention, it can feel like our calorie-counting, carb-fasting, just-one-more-bite selves don’t stand a chance. As you satisfy your sweet or savory tooth this month, keep these tips in mind:
Allow yourself a treat here and there: ‘Tis the season for hot cocoa and candy canes and all the other confections that patiently wait for their time to shine. Like a one-day-only sale, December’s offerings don’t stick around for long. It’s ok to reserve some space for your aunt’s homemade shortbread cookies or your grandma’s famous fudge. It’s ok to lick the spatula and wipe the frosting bowl clean as you whip up a batch of cookies with your kids. No one’s saying you should approach the weeks ahead like Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but resisting every edible temptation that comes your way isn’t realistic either. The longer you deny your cravings, the more likely you are to give way to a regrettable binge later.
Practice moderation: We’ve all heard the phrase “everything in moderation, including moderation.” If you’re worried about overeating, as is common this time of year, make smaller batches. If you have an insatiable appetite for glazed pecans, practice portion control by planning ahead: limit yourself to a handful (or whatever your healthy sweet spot is) and then switch to a more wholesome alternative. You can set similar limitations with any snacks, appetizers, sides or desserts that might send you into a food coma. Share your plan with a family member or friend you’ll be dining with so you can have an accountability buddy. You might even encourage them to join you.
Remember mindfulness: As you consume, be mindful of your body’s cues that let you know when you’re hungry and full. Research suggests that it can take up to 20 minutes from your first bite before you feel satiated. When you find yourself reaching for a second or third helping, pause to check in with your body. Ask yourself if you’re truly hungry or if you’re just filling your plate because there’s still food on the table.
Keep it simple: This year brought life to a standstill, demanding that we slow down and simplify. Some of us met the long days with anguish while others relished the chance to refocus. As we close out the 12th (or is it the 36th?) month of 2020, we are invited to let go, to settle in and to reacquaint ourselves with life’s small wonders. As you pore over ingredient lists and serving sizes, cookbooks and culinary tools, remember that it doesn’t need to be complicated. Opt for 2 or 3 side dishes instead of 5 or 6. If you don’t usually play holiday host, use this time to try some new recipes to balance out pizza nights and guilty pleasures. When you feel pressured to create a feast that Martha Stewart could take notes from, remind yourself that you are not a television personality and best-selling author who built an empire on entertaining and reigns over the kitchen as queen supreme.
I hope these tips help you feel more confident as you feast on seasonal favorites in the weeks ahead. Get a head start on your meal prep with these tasty recipes that are sure to please and won’t hurt your waistline!
3 New Recipes to try!
Mediterranean Farro Salad
1 cup farro
1-2 cups vegetable broth
1 pound brussels sprouts
½ cup pistachios
½ cup shaved parmesan
½ cup coarsely torn mint
½ cup basil
Olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Thinly slice brussels sprouts crosswise discarding stem end. Toss with olive oil and salt and spread on a baking sheet.
3. Roast brussels sprouts at 325 degrees for 25-35 minutes until fragrant and crisp on the edges.
4. Meanwhile, prepare farro according to package instructions, using vegetable broth (not water.)
5. Drain any excess liquid from farro and add to a large bowl with thinly sliced roasted brussels sprouts, pistachios, and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Add shaved parmesan, mint and basil immediately prior to serving.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Spanish Stuffed Dates
12 pitted Medjool dates
3 ounces manchego cheese
3.5 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut manchego into 1-inch long chunks about the thickness of a pencil.
3. Cut prosciutto into 1-inch long strips.
4. Make a long thin slit in the dates and stuff with a chunk of manchego, wrapping date around to enclose.
5. Wrap each date with a prepared prosciutto strip. The prosciutto will likely wrap around a couple of times.
6. Arrange on sheet pan evenly spaced.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes, flipping midway through so dates crisp on both sides.
8. Serve warm.
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer
Leek and Squash Casserole
2 medium delicata squash
5-6 ounces gruyere
Olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×12 inch baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Thinly slice leeks crosswise into rounds, white and light green parts only. Rinse thoroughly in cold water.
3. Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add leaks, and salt and pepper to taste. Sautee, stirring regularly until leeks are softened.
4. Meanwhile, trim ends off squash. Cut in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds.
5. Thinly slice the squash crosswise into half-moons and add to a large bowl. Coarsely grate cheese.
6. Add melted leeks to squash. Add 2/3 of the grated cheese and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
7. Toss again and layer evenly in prepared baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and cover pan with foil, taking care not to let foil stick to cheese.
8. Bake covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes until top is browned and juices are bubbly.
An abridged version of this article originally appeared on Baltimore Style.